was asked to honor the Nobel Prize laureate for literature long before she knew it would be Bob Dylan. After it was announced that Dylan would receive the honor, Smith decided to perform the laureate’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” one of her and her late husband’s favorite songs.
The reflective song is inspired by the Anglo ballad “Lord Randall,” which tells the story of a heartbroken boy returning home to his mother after being betrayed. While Dylan’s song explores different themes than the original, he still conjures a reflective, melancholic tone. Being the artist that she is, Smith was aware of the song’s history and in the moment of her performance, was overcome with emotions. In an essay she wrote for The New Yorker, Smith described the moment:
I was struck with a plethora of emotions, avalanching with such intensity that I was unable to negotiate them. From the corner of my eye, I could see the the huge boom stand of the television camera, and all the dignitaries upon the stage and the people beyond. Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was unable to continue. I hadn’t forgotten the words that were now a part of me. I was simply unable to draw them out.
Anyone familiar with Patti Smith knows she is an artist that demonstrates grace and integrity in anything she does—her performance honoring Dylan is no exception. Read her essay in full here, and watch her performance of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” below. Beneath that, find Paste Cloud footage from a 1979 Patti Smith Group show.